[The following article was provided to legislators this week by Dr. Harry Peterson. It is reproduced here with his permission. – Ed.]
I understand that there is no significant legislative support to break away the UW-Madison from the UW System and provide the UW-Madison its own governing board. I have been told that a “compromise” approach would provide a governing board for the UW-Madison and have that university remain in the UW System.
I do not know with whom such a “compromise” would be struck, but, this idea fails badly and is seriously flawed.
There are two possibilities with such a proposal. The first possibility is that the UW-Madison board would be advisory. If this is the case, no legislation is needed.
The UW-Madison has benefited for many years by having advisory boards, usually composed of successful graduates of the University. Indeed, late last month Chancellor Martin convened a “Summit” of all of the advisory boards throughout the University. Over 500 people gathered for lunch at the Kohl Center as part of that meeting. They represented successful graduates who are advising and supporting all of the schools and colleges at the UW-Madison, including Law, Medicine, Education, Letters and Sciences and Education. Those 500 people came from around the country as a show of devotion to their university.
The other possibility is that this proposal would provide statutory authority to the UW-Madison governing board to make budget decisions, hire and evaluate the Chancellor, or other important responsibilities.
To have two governing boards for the UW-Madison, the largest, most complicated and important public organization in Wisconsin, would violate every sound practice of management in either the public or the private sector. It would cause confusion about who was in charge. It represents the worst aspects of what we see with some committees—if everyone is in charge—no one is in charge. If no one is in charge no one is accountable.
While there may be some business people who would support such a proposal for the UW-Madison and the UW System, I am confident that none of these individuals would permit such an unaccountable system for their own organization because it would make it less effective.
If the President of the UW System appears before a legislative committee to explain a System Policy, will members of the legislature find it acceptable if that president says he or she cannot speak for the UW-Madison because the authority has been removed? (Who would want to be President of the UW System under such an arrangement?)
Administrative and leadership responsibilities are enumerated in the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 36.
Board of Regents: 36.09 (1) The primary responsibility for governance of the system shall be vested in the board.
System President: 36.09(2) (a) The president shall be president of all of the faculty and shall be vested with the responsibility of administering the system under board policies… .
Chancellors: 36.09 (3)(a) The chancellors shall be the executive heads of their respective faculties and institutions and shall be vested with the responsibility of administering board policies under the coordinating direction of the president and be accountable and report to the president and the board on the operation and administration of their institutions.
The responsibilities are clear and unambiguous. Is the legislature prepared to change these statutes to accommodate a separate governing board within the UW System?
Aims McGuinnes, the nation’s leading expert on higher education systems states that there are at least two states that have boards within system governing boards—and they are having problems. They are the University of Maine and the University of Utah.
Aims has consulted on this subject with virtually every state over the years:
“Campus boards get really confused about their role: they soon think that they, not the system board, are the principal governing body and their advocacy is definitely only for their particular campus, not the broader public interest. It is especially difficult if the major research university campus (with its political power through big-time sports and influential graduates) has a board with major players on it who are appointed and encouraged by the chancellor/president to act like the real governing board and ignore the system.”
In Maine, McGuinness reports, local boards of advisors were established, which McGuinness believes only amplified problems with system cohesion. He further reports, “ The Utah system campus boards have been a constant source of confusion between their role and that of the Utah Board of Regents.”
If the University of Maine and the University of Utah are having problems, how do their “big-time sports and influential graduates,” compare with the athletic program and the influential graduates at the UW-Madison. If it is happening in those states, it would happen in Wisconsin.
A review of the governing systems of the Big Ten Universities (plus Penn State University), in detailed materials from the Association of Governing Boards, reveals no such dual governing programs at those universities. If there are such programs, they are not sufficiently important to appear in the information from AGB.
Aims McGuinness writes: “In fact, I am quite sure that in none of the systems do the campus executives actually report to the campus boards rather than the system executive. In other words, the campus boards are strictly advisory on matters delegated by the system board—and the campus executive does not report to the system executive through the campus board.” (emphasis McGuinness)
Such a system does not exist in the Big Ten. Where it is in place, in Utah and Maine, there are problems.
Chancellor Martin is seeking a separate board, in exchange for an additional $30 million in budget cuts beyond what her university would receive. Could any changes that Chancellor Martin propose possibly be worth the loss of $30 million in the UW-Madison base budget, beyond what her university would experience without such a provision? She has already committed to not increasing tuition beyond the Board of Regents authorized increase. To recover that $30 million loss would require a $600 million dollar increase in the endowment at the UW Foundation.
If Chancellor Martin wants to appoint a campus-wide board to advise her on matters of her choice, such a board would be very consistent with the traditions of the UW-Madison and could be very helpful.
To make any changes to Chapter 36 of the Wisconsin Statutes to divert authority from the UW System and assign it to the UW-Madison would cause confusion and would create a tension between the UW-Madison and the UW System. Worst of all, it would put it in law.
The result would be confusion and tension and, based on the experience in Utah, increase efforts by the UW-Madison board to compound its authority at the expense of the UW System.
Two systems of higher education were merged in 1971 because there was fighting between those two systems. In 2011 the legislature could make the pre-merger problems look minor in comparison to changing the statutes to create permanent fighting within the UW System. There is nothing so damaging as a fight within a family.
Leading and managing 15 universities in our state is a difficult job, done well now by an underappreciated Board of Regents and System. The legislature should not make it impossible. There is too much at stake.
UW Madison administrator 1978-1990
Chief of Staff, Donna Shalala 1988-1990
Western State College of Colorado